When I was a boy, my brothers, who were great athletes in their own right had posters hung up in the cellar (we didn’t call it a basement because it had a dirt floor and coarse stones making up the foundation). It was really just a hole in the ground. In the corner of the ‘furnace room’ (a converted coal furnace, now burning oil) next to the makeshift bench press and scattered dumbbells, taped up to the round stones with electrician’s tape were a series of posters titled ‘Conditioning for a Purpose.”
One of the posters was of Steve Prefontaine, the legendary Oregon runner before his untimely death in 1975. The posters had a series of stretches and weight exercises designed to make you faster or stronger or have more endurance. “Pre” was credited with saying, “Someone may beat me, but they are going to have to bleed to do it.” So, when 8 of the areas toughest racers showed up at the Scholars Inn Bakehouse for a pre-winter training ride on a cold November morning, I knew that I was in for a few hours of bloodletting.
Messers Rose, Catanzaro, West, Atwell, Brooks (CFW), Kroll, (CFW) Parry, Palmer, and I arrived at 11am at the Bakehouse. Rose used the time honored pre-ride technique of sugar loading and went in for a chocolate scone to fuel his start. We were chatting as he was eating it and some of the chocolate was dripping down his chin like dark blood. Not a good omen despite his comment that he was not going to “drill it” today because of a race tomorrow. I had a couple of pieces of toast at home prior to the ride over and was now regretting that nutrition oversight, thinking that this would be a team-building ride, a sort of, ‘get to know you’ event-much like Wednesday’s affable party at the Scholars Inn Bakehouse. I couldn’t have been more wrong! Brooks used the pre-ride chatter to joke about my yellow winter bike (that I didn’t bring). I decided to ride my race bike, and spent some of the morning cleaning the chain and washing the bike down, checking the tires for nicks, doing an inventory of my repair bag, going through the gears. It’s a sort of pre-ride anointment ritual that most of us do in one form or another. Kroll had cotton in his ears, which apparently raises your core temperature, but he looked just a little menacing at the start of the ride. Others had earbuds in, listening to some motivational soundtrack. My stomach was growling. I asked Atwell if he prefers to listen to songs on rides. “Only rides over 4 or 5 hours,” he said. 4 or 5 hours! My knees began to ache. Palmer confided that he wasn’t feeling ‘great’ but if you’ve ever ridden with him (even on his bad days) I can tell you that you may not be able to hold his wheel when the road goes up. Parry suggested a southerly course, an 80k ride down 446 just before the 58 flashers. I did the conversions as we got on the bikes.
We left a little after 11 after a minor repair and wandered through town headed south to 446. The chatty ride, two abreast allowed for a relaxed but structured ride out to the open roads. Once off of Knightridge, we settled into a single file paceline. The initial pulls were long, some better than 5 minutes and fairly hard, as Atwell and Rose kept the tempo high. I was behind Palmer and was managing the pace well, despite choosing to stay in my small chainring for the first hour. On the run-up to the causeway across the lake, I had to abandon this tactic and belly up to the powerband that my colleagues were putting out. I remember sitting in the back after a pull and just watching our sleek and polished paceline hurtling down the road and thinking how beautiful it would be when we all are in the same colors with matching kits.
My vision of butterflies and unicorns was cut short, however, when I felt a slight electrical short in my left hamstring as the reality of the situation set in. I was hoping that it would self-correct. I was doing some quick math in my head. 9 riders, about 4 minute pulls. That means I am at the front every half hour or so. Our 50ish mile ride at about 20 mph, a little under 3 hours. These calculations, I learned, only work if you don’t get dropped!
On our westward romp under Lake Monroe there were a few hills to contend with and one or two real tests that forced me and West off the back. West decides to stop and remove some warmers. I was on Parry’s wheel (he on his cyclo cross bike) as the strongmen asserted themselves up the steep pitches. Parry stands and bridges to the group but I can’t match the pace. I wait for West and we join the group as Palmer comes back to fetch us. But the bloody writing is on the wall.
We cross 37 to Old 37 and turn north towards home. But there is still a long way to go and some long uphill drags to contest. The pace is hard and steady and I am having trouble matching the accelerations on these slow rollers. As the road goes up I find myself in the back as Rose, Atwell, Kroll, Brooks, Catanzaro and Palmer begin to ride away. It’s only a couple of bike lengths, but I can’t manage the pain and the result is as inevitable as it is fast. I can hear Phil Ligget say, “Oh my! Saccone is in difficulty! He’s bouncing around on his bike and lost his form now. He’s going to have a tough go of staying on with the leaders!” “That’s right Phil,” chimes in Paul Sherwen, “He’ll have to ride these climbs at his own pace and hope for the best.” Then I am alone. Further up the road, West then Parry join me and we settle in to a 3 man paceline trying to minimize our losses but the group ahead disappears on the rollers. Later we are joined by Catanzaro and the four of us decide, without discussion, to just roll back to town.
We can only speculate as to the activities of the leaders; Rose, Palmer, Atwell, Kroll and Brooks as we don’t see them again. As we pass through downtown, we split up and head our separate ways. I am cold now and hungry but have a few miles ahead of me to get back to the north edge of town. I navigate back towards Cascades and drop down the descent toward the forest and home. I realize that I had bitten the inside of my lip back on the earlier climbs. I could still taste the blood in my mouth as I hit the final climb for home.